Republicans showed strong interest in newcomer Doug Truax, but ultimately they decided Tuesday to have experienced, deep-pocketed Republican state Sen. Jim Oberweis take on Democratic U.S. Sen. Dick Durbin this November.
In an unexpectedly close race, Oberweis, a senator and dairy magnate from Sugar Grove, beat Truax in the Republican primary.
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With 97 percent of the vote tallied, unofficial results show Oberweis with 56 percent of the vote to Truax's 44 percent, separated by roughly 81,000 votes.
"He's one heck of a candidate, and a great campaigner," said Oberweis, who plans to bring Truax, a 43-year-old health care business consultant and Army veteran from Downers Grove, onto one of his health care advisory committees. Repealing and replacing the Affordable Care Act will be a key campaign issue in the race against Durbin, which is likely to draw national attention, pitting conservative Oberweis against the liberal Durbin.
Oberweis sees himself as the underdog in the race.
"If I win this Senate seat, it'd be so the Republicans can take control of the U.S. Senate, and that will change the direction of this country," he said.
Truax, at his campaign party at the Oak Brook Marriott, said he was encouraged to see such a strong showing after being a total unknown and down more than 30 percentage points in the polls.
"We feel good about it," the first-time candidate said early Tuesday evening. "When I got there and talked to everybody, they responded well. That's gotta count for something."
At Tuesday night's campaign party at his Glen Ellyn ice cream store, Oberweis started launching attacks against Durbin, giving a glimpse into what will likely be a nasty and expensive election.
"This campaign has always been about how to move this country forward," Oberweis said. "It's going to be a very expensive campaign. I'm going to need a lot of help."
Oberweis said the large number of crossover voters Tuesday may have been a factor in the close race, speculating that many Democrats pulled a Republican ballot and voted for Truax.
The race was less about the issues -- both candidates are conservatives -- and more about who is best suited to take on Durbin.
"Mr. Durbin prefers not to face me," Oberweis said.
Oberweis faced criticism for spending last week in Florida, celebrating his wife's birthday, but it didn't seem to hurt him in the election. He said he's not heading back to Florida anytime soon.
"I'm going to be busy in Springfield," he said.
Truax, one of the critics of the Florida trip, offered Oberweis his support when calling to concede the race Tuesday night.
"I look forward to the battle continuing tomorrow," Oberweis said. "The important thing here is to beat Dick Durbin."